ATM & other do it yourself projects

LOMO Biolam Microscope restoration.

As you’ll have gathered, Andy got me an old LOMO Biolam microscope for Christmas. Included in the sale were an assortment of extras ‘upgrades’ (all in their own wooden boxes) to the original base unit (most I don’t think have ever been used), including a binocular head with a pair of x7 and x10 eyepieces.

Being 41 years old, it needed some TLC – the main issue being the infamous ‘Russian Tank Grease’ originally used!

You can tell it’s age as the serial number contains it’s year of manufacture – just like Takahashi do, so the ’77’ is 1977.

This instrument is still a ‘LOMO’ version, later, it was also made and marketed under the Zenith brand (we used their cameras at art college!)

Over time, this grease has solidified (think your bonfire toffee apples), so most things that were supposed to move were either very stiff or just plain stuck.

Not being very ‘DIY’, I’ve spent the last few weeks tentatively stripping it down and soaking various parts in white spirit and WD40.


Andy came round just after Christmas and we had ‘first light’ – this image is of a Lilly Ovary, iPhone 6 held up to the 10x eyepiece in the Binocular attachment (adds 1.5x mag) and a 20x objective (so 300x)

It was pretty tricky to achieve focus as the main (coarse focuser) was lumpy and the fine focus unit inoperable….

The microscope (thankfully) turned out to be pretty easy to take apart.

Below, the main/coarse focus unit (after spending a week in a bath of white spirit). Brushed clean with my old tooth brush and re-greased with a modern silicon alternative.


Image below – bottom of the ‘stage base’ – the bit where you place your slide (‘rotating stage’ also stuck!) This shows the silver-grey fine focuser mounted on the side.

Most of the microscope is cast metal and brass. The only plastic part was this strip of gearing for the condenser (the unit that focuses the light source onto the slide/specimen). The two screws though caught me out – the top being countersunk and the lower a pan-head!

The brass is ‘pre-polished’….

Below images (x2) – back of same ‘stage’ part….

…..and with gearing removed….

The biggest issue was the fine focuser. The actual unit is self contained, like the inside of a watch and ‘runs- dry’ – so no grease. Whilst it worked on it’s own, I could not get the fine focus to work once everything was reassembled…

The large metal pin (above) sits in that circular recess shown below in the middle of that brass piece. Inside the main cavity sits the fine focuser which mates to the fine focus gearing/knob just seen in the shadow right at the back.

It turned out that the brass part (with circular recess) is supposed to freely move up and down with a turn of the fine focuser…

….the movement dampened by a large spring that sits inside this circular recess on the other side (top). The spring is held in place under tension by the serial number ‘date’ cover shown earlier.


Once we had worked out how this works Andy………. hit it…… (carefully) with a hammer….(!!!) after judisious use of WD40. That freed the brass dovetail allowing cleaning, polishing and re-greasing…

41 years of grease (finally) removed !

Amazing what a bit of Brass can do!

Once all back together everything finally worked!


Andy headed off and I finished polishing up the chrome objective head and attaching the X/Y upgrade to the stage.

Later in the evening I popped over to Andy’s to try the microscope out. I still have the condenser upgrade to sort (Russian tank grease again) and then sort an LED / Halogen illuminator to replace the 15w bulb version (itself an upgrade over the supplied mirror).


Andy’s calibration slide – each line is 0.01mm apart.


The moon….?


ET’s hand !




Solargraph – worked… (sort of)!

Six months has flown by….

Time to collect the solargraph we ‘planted’…


Yes, a few days early to be collecting, but today is my last one in the office and I wasn’t thinking of doing a 124 mile round trip to collect from Leominster on the shortest day!

What a lovely start to the day, a slippy stile and muddy walk!

If you remember from the last post, the first attempt had been damaged – probably due to the shiny  ‘foil’ pinhole being pecked out by an interested magpie!

2x previous photos of new solargraph in situ…(Above and below)

The site from Google Maps:

Kimbolton Church (Nr. Leominster) is in the centre. The solar graph is sited in that first tree-line (towards 10/11 o’clock), looking back to the church – thought it would make a nice view/foreground…

This time, we had forgone the foil (you pin-prick it to get a fine hole and therefore sharper image recorded) and instead drilled (No 1 drill bit), straight into the tin. No bird was going to get through that!!

Would this one fair better…?

This was it’s rough view as seen this morning upon collection at 8.45am….

First impressions were good… the baked bean can pinhole camera looked to have survived it’s six months and was in remarkably good condition with hardly any rust – sheltered under the trees.

Back at the office, second impressions were of an unremarkable small image and some image shift (double exposure)…. look how the church is double exposed on the original below….      ;-(


I don’t think it was ‘vandalised’ if it had, it would have been ripped out and strewn across the hedgerow… ‘Mother Nature’…. perhaps…? More likely a horse or sheep rubbing up against the stake (or wire fence) – although I did try and protect it somewhat…

(Above: Initial scan – 900DPI, Colour-Millions, mirror reversed on the horizontal plane, cropped).


If this hasn’t worked, that’s 18 months from the first try (summer>winter 2016) – I didn’t have another pinhole camera prepared after the first go to put imediately back in place, so waited until this summer solstice in 2017 to try again.

Again, I didn’t have another prepared to start again this morning either, so another camera would have to wait until summer 2018….




With a little Photoshop magic, it’s amazing what can be achieved!

Phew  😉


For January’s RAG end-month meeting, I’ll bring the laptop, scanner, etc. So if you tried your own solargraph and want some help processing it, bring it along and we can have a play!

If you want to preserve yours until then, I suggest you remove from the tin, ***dry completely with a hairdryer*** and then put nice and flat inside an envelope (or two) out of direct light.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!



Be afraid, be very afraid!!! – Baader 8-24 Zoom lens stripdown

Hi folks

Some of you may remember that I picked up a Baader 8-24 zoom lens from Astrofest a couple of years ago for £60. It was complete but the mechanism was a bit crunchy and sticking. Eventually it packed up completely. This left me with two choices, abandon it, or to attempt a very complicated and almost impossible rebuild.

Anyone who knows me would guess that I went for the second option!! So, heart in mouth, I went for it

I would immediately stress that, unless you are very technical, or completely mad (like me), **** DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ****. There are lots of tiny screws, lenses and spacers and plenty of grease.

The problem I found was that there are three rollers/ guides that run in a helical groove. See the screwhead to the left of the 20 in the first picture. If you look at the second picture you can see there is no roller. The screw of that, and the third roller , had sheared. These screws are tiny M1.8 x 4mm screws.

This is where the fun part/ insanity started, as I had to either extract the sheared screws or drill them out with a 1.3mm drill. It wasn’t possible to extract them so I had do some very nervous and careful drilling. This also involved a complete stripdown to clean everything. I mentioned plenty of grease … it was everywhere!!!

I gave everything a good clean and (eventually) got it all back together, and IT WORKED!! Yayyyy . I now have two working zoom lenses

Image intensifier photographs from observing session 17-18/11/2017 (home-made image intensified eyepiece, Samsung S7 phone, Orion UK 10″ Dobsonian, Lichfield)

The following photographs were taken during the observing session at LRO, Lichfield, UK, by Andrew and Damian 17-18/11/2017. Photographs were taken from views through our two 10″ Orion Dobsonian Telescopes, using our home-made (ATM) image intensified eyepieces and my Samsung S7 smart phone hand held at the eyepiece end of the image intensified eyepiece.

The home made image intensified eyepieces were made using old 2nd world war image intensifier tubes purchased from ebay for £50 each a few years ago. They give good views although suffer from significant image distortion towards the edge. However, they represent excellent value for money and provide a quite different way of observing the night sky. Although technically what you see through these image intensified eyepieces is not a direct view of the night sky but instead an electronic image, they give an excellent “through the eyepiece” experience because of where they are located (in the focuser) and the intimate experience of observer and telescope is therefore retained, albeit with a green view!

Andy & Damian

Andromeda-Galaxy-Satellite-M31 & M32-Image-intensified-eyepiece-10-in-Dob-17-181117.jpg (below):

Christmas-Tree-Open-Cluster-NGC2264-Image-intensified-eyepiece-10-in-Dob-17-181117.jpg (below):

Crab-Nebula-M1-Image-intensified-eyepiece-10-in-Dob-17-181117.jpg (below):

Eskimo-Plantary-Nebula-NGC2392-Image-intensified-eyepiece-10-in-Dob-181117.jpg (below):

Galaxies-M81-M82-image-intensified-eyepiece-10-in-Dob-17-181117.jpg (below):

Hubble-variable-nebula-NGC2261-Image-intensified-eyepiece-10-in-Dob-181117.jpg (below):

Open-clusters-M35-NGC2158-image-intensified-eyepiece-10-in-Dob-17-181117.jpg (below):

Orion-Nebula-M42-image-intensified-eyepiece-10-in-Dob-17-181117.jpg (below):

Pleiades-Open-Cluster-M45-image-intensified-eyepiece-10-in-Dob-17-181117.jpg (below):

Scale for focussing tube

Hi, it’s useful to know the focussing position especially when imaging and using different combinations of filters/ lenses with the camera, although my sky watcher 120 Evostar has a graduated Crayford focuser, the newly acquired ST102 doesn’t, so rather than replace the rack & pinion focuser with a calibrated Crayford I managed to source some transparent adhesive scale tape, which I have attached to barrel, after cleaning the area with some isopropyl alcohol, its still on but have yet to put it to use. The tape was relatively cheap, and I do have an excess of repeating 40cm lengths, so if any one fancies adding a scale to their focussing tube get in contact.


Pete Hill

Leisure Battery Powerbank

Hi Folks

Here’s my latest creation. I wanted a heavy duty power tank but I’ve always struggle to find a suitable box. Most plastic boxes have the handle on the lid, so all of the weight of the box is held on what are usually quite flimsy plastic catches. Anyway, after some searching I found this box on eBay for £19.99. The handle is attached to the main body and is made of substantial aluminium tube:-

I’ve fitted an inverter, a double mains socket with 2 x 5V 2.4A USB outlets, and 3 x 12V outlets. I picked up a second hand battery for £20.

The box is pretty sturdy and I’m going to put a plywood board on the lid. It is then strong enough to stand/ sit on


Solargraph – ready!

Yes, a day or so early… but I’m off straight after work tomorrow night to see my mum at her caravan in South Wales – so it was today or never!

This is second time lucky for this location (between Leominster and my run to my B&B). Two years ago (after waiting for the full six months) I returned to collect to find the hole had been, I think, pecked through!

The best way to get a fine pin hole you see is to drill a bigger hole first into the tin. Then cover with strong (turkey) foil and then pierce that with a needle to get a nice fine hole. Only for the birds to be attracted by the shiny foil and peck it out!!!

Well not this time birds! Used a No1 drill to go straight through the can – see how you get on with that…

I suppose we’ll find out in six months then!

It’ll be interesting to see if the wire fence (which the camera is behind so the sheep don’t rub against it), will come out in focus or be a surreal blur with the Church as the main focus…

Julie has instructions to start the one at home, my sister has hers, J’s dad has his and Andy has two as well…

And you can have one as well come the meeting at the end of the month. Yes, we’ll be a few days past the longest day, but still loads of time to get a great image – I’ve used up the paper and got six new ones ready to go. £5 a pop – first come first served, monies going towards the observatory fund.